The yellow school bus wound its way down the dirt and gravel Heise Run Road. Students gossiped and chattered. One child stared blankly out the side window. Then, his eyes lit up. He shouted, “Did you see that buck, Mr. Mengee?” Ed Mengee, the bus driver, slowed to a stop, noticing the deer that lay on the edge of the road. His rear view mirror showed no traffic so he backed up to get a better look. The students all jammed to one side of the bus to get a better view. The driver muttered, “That’s a nice buck. It’s a shame.” And that, in the words of Winston Churchill was “the beginning of the end” of a deer hunting saga. Quite a saga.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Steve Adams is a principal in the Wellsboro Area School District. Folks outside the county seat remember him as the head coach of the Hornets basketball team. Steve is also a dyed-in-the-wool hunter. He’s good at harvesting spring gobblers, but archery hunting for deer is his specialty. He runs three miles up to three times a week to keep in shape for hiking the hills and dragging deer. He practices with his bow daily. He scouted extensively and decided that he’d try for several bucks that met muster. He was ready for bow season.
Steve hunted the first week and passed up shots at does and a young, scrawny six-point buck. He had settled on the bucks he would take, and he was being selective.
His body rebelled, though, dealing a blow to his archery plans: out of the blue, he was forced to undergo an emergency appendectomy. The surgery waylaid his hunting for two weeks. Stir-crazy from lying around the house, and anxious for the hunt, he decided to go out behind his house. Against the better judgment of his physicians, he gingerly walked to a good watch site. Using a tree-climbing stand, he ascended a tree, realizing how out of shape he had become since the surgery. He could only climb ten feet.
He heard a deer walking behind him. He slowly turned to get a look and...it was the buck. The cautious buck just stood motionless for nearly twenty minutes. Steve used a bleat call and three does came in, presenting a shot. On seeing the does, the buck moved in. He was within fifteen yards. Steve tried to pull back his bow, which by now had sat idle for twenty days. He had to lift his arms nearly vertical to get enough muscle to draw. The buck never saw the movement. The archer took aim and placed a shot. He waited in the stand for twenty minutes and then climbed down to examine the area of the shot. He said, “I found white hair and dark blood. It wasn’t a good sign. I went home and called [my friend] Ben Largey to help me track. It was now dark.”
Ben arrived with his dad, Gale, and the three trackers waited. Several hours after the shot, they ventured forth with flashlights. The blood trail was initially easy to follow. Then they heard a deer run ahead of them. Continuing on the track, they found a bed with plenty of blood. The blood trail ended, and they reluctantly quit for the night. Steve said, “I didn’t sleep all night. It bothered me that I had wounded a deer and couldn’t find it. I took the next day off school to continue the search. I went back to the bed and circled in ever-widening arcs trying to find any sign of my deer. I found deer tracks but no blood. Finally, I decided to drive down Heise Run to see if I could spot where the deer may have crossed the road.”
In the meantime, at the school, the bus driver had mentioned the big deer and described the location to Julie Foil, an employee of the school district. She phoned Dick Grubb, who lived near the spot, and told him that he’d ought to take a look. Grubb found the deer and lamented the fact that it had probably been hit by a car. He proceeded to a local restaurant for his morning coffee and the daily bull session with the regulars. The conversation always came around to hunting at some point. He talked about the big buck down Heise Run. He urged Kenny Erway, the proprietor of a local deer farm, to go see the buck. Ken did. He felt the deer and exclaimed, “This buck’s still warm! The meat’s still good. I’m gonna take it.” As he rolled the deer over to gut it, he discovered that it had been shot by an arrow. He dressed the deer, preserving the cape for a mount. Then he called Grubb and asked him to check the neighbors to see if anybody had hit a deer with an arrow and couldn’t find it. He said that he’d publicize it around town in hopes of finding the hunter who had killed the buck. Then he took the deer to a meat processor—who is also a taxidermist.
So by the time Steve Adams slowly motored down Heise Run, his deer was already at the butcher. He had several more sleepless nights. He even said, “I don’t think I’ll hunt deer with a bow anymore.”
He reported to school on Monday and lamented the fact that he had lost a deer. A flurry of phone calls followed; Julie called Dick who called Ken who called the school.
Steve identified the deer because it had a very distinctive rack. Then he called the taxidermist/butcher who said that he needed a tag on the deer. Steve called the game warden, who told him to fill out the tag and take the tag to the butcher. Ken Erway surmised that the huge layer of fat where the arrow exited helped to clot up the bleeding and that’s why the blood trail stopped.
In all, about a dozen locals were involved in the episode. There were ten to eleven phone calls. The hunt took four days. (This could only happen in a small town known for hunting.)
The massive buck weighed out, dressed, at 187 pounds. That’s a huge deer.
But, finally, Steve was able to walk into the butcher shop and say, “Here’s my tag.”